Date Published: 21 April 2009

Poverty, Inequality and Child Rights

Opinion piece by UNICEF UK Executive Director, David Bull. This article appears in a collection of essays produced by the End Child Poverty coalition:

When we think about low-income countries in other parts of the world, countries with a GDP of only $1 per capita per day, we expect them to have high rates of infant mortality, low rates of school attendance, lower life expectancy and greater preventable disease prevalence than a richer country. When we consider different income levels and what goes along with these, we are thinking about the impact that poverty has on rights, including child rights. Rights to health, to education, to protection and to development as an individual. Poverty is a barrier to the realisation of rights.

Globally the impact of poverty is pronounced; over 101 million children1 are deprived of a primary school education; 26,000 children under the age of 5 die each day 2, almost entirely due to preventable causes. Children that live with poverty are often said to suffer a double disadvantage, this refers to the fact that there are very strong correlations between poverty and negative outcomes (ill-health, shorter life expectancy, less education): a fact that is true for relative and absolute poverty.

Shocking inequities within countries and cities also persist. The life expectancy of a child born in Calton in Glasgow, Scotland is 28 years less than that of a child born a few miles away in Lenzie.The 2007 UNICEF report on child wellbeing ranked the UK bottom out of 21 OECD countries. The UK has one of the worst rates of Child Poverty in the industrialised world; 30% of children in the UK live in poverty6 – that is 3.9 million. Looking at the percentage of children growing up in relative poverty across 24 OECD countries the UK ranked 23 out of 24, with only the USA having a higher rate of relative poverty. Given how comparatively wealthy the UK is as a country, our child poverty rate is unacceptably high. In this context UNICEF UK welcomes the Government’s commitment to halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is 20 years old this year. It was written because there was a specific need for a convention to protect the rights of children, as people under 18 years old need special care and protection. The UNCRC is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty and it is the only one to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It sets out in detail what every child needs for a safe, happy and fulfilled childhood. Crucially the rights outlined in the UNCRC are interdependent and indivisible; we cannot ensure some rights without—or at the expense of—other rights. This concept is particularly pertinent when looking at the influence of poverty on rights.

Article 4 of the UNCRC says that:

"States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation."

As this article stipulates, by agreeing to the obligations of the UNCRC national governments, including the UK, have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights by all means available to them, and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable before the international community. States which are party to the UNCRC, are required to report to the UN Comittee on the Rights of the Child9. Each country has to submit a comprehensive report on its implementation every five years. In September 2008, the UK Government’s most recent report was examined in a face-to-face meeting between the Committee in Geneva and a UK delegation. In October, the Committee issued ‘concluding observations and recommendations’, in which it offered assessment of the UK Government’s implementation of the UNCRC.

The Committee stated that it appreciated efforts that have been made to meet the objectives set out in the Convention, and UNICEF UK also welcomes policy developments and investment that the Government has made in recent years. However, the Committee also expressed concerns; that significant inequalities which have serious implications for children’s life chances persist.

"The Committee notes with appreciation the increase in expenditures on children in recent years. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned that the increases are not sufficient to eradicate poverty and tackle inequalities and that the lack of consistent budgetary analysis and child rights impact assessment makes it difficult to identify how much expenditure is allocated to children across the State party and whether this serves to effectively implement policies and legislation affecting them."

The Committee’s analysis is that the Government could be doing more, through targeted financial investment, to further the rights of children in the UK. The Committee went on to recommend:

"that the State party, in accordance with article 4 of the Convention, allocate the maximum extent of available resources for the implementation of children’s rights, with a special focus on eradicating poverty and that it reduce inequalities across all jurisdictions."

This is a call to action for the UK.

There are many other compelling reasons to work to eradicate child poverty in the UK, not least the economic case: eradicating child poverty would remove the significant cost to the economy represented by child poverty.

The UNCRC acknowledges that each nation finds itself at a different starting point and encourages governments to take steps to realise rights over time. The UK, as a relatively rich nation, could be further ahead and yet as the Committee stresses, poverty remains a real barrier to child rights realisation in the UK. If the UK Government is serious about its obligation to deliver the UNCRC, what better year than this, the 20th anniversary of the UNCRC, to demonstrate its commitment to children’s rights and to make the financial investment needed to lift UK children out of poverty.


Source: UNICEF Main Website.
See also UNICEF Online Gift Shop

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